A woman has died and a rabbi was injured after shots were fired inside a Poway, California synagogue filled with people celebrating the last day of Passover. A suspect was taken into custody approximately two miles away from the synagogue while three patients were rushed to a nearby hospital.
The victim was identified Saturday as 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye.
A man with an assault-style rifle entered Chabad of Poway on Rancho Bernardo Road, west of Interstate 15 at 11:23 a.m. and opened fire on the people inside, law enforcement officials said.
"We didn’t hear him screaming or saying anything. He was just focused to kill. You saw the hate and the murder in his eyes," Danny Almong, a witness, told NBC 7. "He had a vest and he had clips in the vest. He was ready. He was ready. He came in to kill."
The suspect was identified as John T. Earnest, 19, a graduate of Mount Carmel High School and student at Cal State San Marcos. Earnest does not have a criminal history and has no apparent connection with white supremacist groups, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.
Be aware of increased law enforcement activity in the 16000 block of Chabad Way as @SDSOPoway Deputies investigate reports of a man with a gun. Please stay clear of the area and allow deputies to safely do their job. Thank you for your patience and cooperation. pic.twitter.com/wuHYb57BW0— San Diego Sheriff (@SDSheriff) April 27, 2019
Read more about Earnest here.
As the suspect fled the scene, an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who was in the synagogue at the time of the shooting opened fire on the suspect, missing the man but striking his vehicle, Gore said.
Near the freeway, a San Diego police officer was en route to the scene while monitoring the sheriff's dispatch when he saw the suspect vehicle.
The suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was taken into custody, SDPD Chief David Nisleit said.
"As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle sitting on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle," Nisleit added.
The sheriff's department said there are indications that the gun may have malfunctioned after some rounds were fired, though it was still being investigated.
More than half a dozen police cars were seen along Rancho Bernardo Road outside Phil’s BBQ -- roughly two miles away from the temple -- where the suspect was apprehended.
Officials have not released a possible motive for the shooting. The Federal Bureau of Investigations was also investigating.
The sheriff's department was preparing search warrants Saturday for the Earnest residence, his vehicle and for the synagogue in Poway. They were also collecting digital evidence and were aware of his manifesto, Gore said.
Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died from injuries suffered in the shooting. An eight-year-old girl and two adult men, including a rabbi, were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals, officials confirmed.
The three injured people are 57-year-old Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 34-year-old Almog Peretz, and 8-year-old Noya Dahan.
The 57-year-old rabbi suffered injuries to index fingers, which trauma surgeon Michael Katz, M.D. said was "the largest injury" of the three surviving victims.
The rabbi was taken into surgery, where he "most likely" will lose his right index finger but may keep his left index finger.
"The rabbi is appropriately upset," Katz said.
Peretz and the girl sustained shrapnel injuries. Katz said the three should "make good recoveries."
"While mass shootings are rare, gunshot wound victims, for us, are not," Katz said. "At the time of such a tragic event, it’s important to be a supportive mechanism for everyone involved."
Chabad of Poway is located at 16934 Chabad Way. The temple was filled as members marked the last day of Passover.
"It’s a very important celebration for us. There’s lots of people inside, they’re praying," Minoo Anvari, a member of the congregation, told NBC 7. "Everybody was crying and screaming."
[SD] Aftermath of the Poway Synagogue Shooting
Anvari said her husband was inside during the shooting and told her someone came in and started cursing and shooting.
Residents Drew Foncerrada and Avery Foncerrada were walking their dog in the area when they saw “cop cars racing.”
"People choose this neighborhood for their kids because it’s totally safe," Drew Foncerrada said.
"Nothing happens like this over here," Avery Foncerrada added.
Two other places of worship, St. John of Damascus Orthodox and Incarnation Lutheran Church, are located immediately next to the synagogue.
"I want you to know, this is not Poway," said Mayor Steve Vaus. "We always walk with our arms around each other."
The Mayor during interviews with cable news channels described the shooting as a hate crime, though law enforcement officials were still investigating the motive.
"We are grateful to those in the congregation there that engaged the shooter and prevented this from being a much more horrific incident," Vaus told MSNBC.
Those injured were transported to Palomar Medical Center Poway, according to deputies. The sheriff said the girl was then transferred to Rady Children's Hospital.
Initially, two children were reported missing during the incident, but deputies confirmed they were reunited with their parents shortly after.
"As you can imagine, it was an extremely chaotic scene with people running everywhere when we got here," San Diego County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Aaron Meleen said.
The Family Assistance Center will be at Poway High School 15500 Espola Road to help relatives looking for loved ones from the synagogue.
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-52, who represents Poway, posted on social media, saying Saturday’s shooting marks six months to the day of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Other leaders sent condolences including President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected, the families, their loved ones, by the obviously looks right now based on my last conversations, looks like a hate crime, hard to believe," President Trump said from the south lawn of the White House. "We're doing some very heavy research we'll see what happens, what comes up, at this moment it looks like a hate crime, but my deepest sympathies to all of those affected and we'll get to the bottom of it."
"I condemn the abhorrent attack on a synagogue in California; this is an attack on the heart of the Jewish people," Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a statement. "We send condolences to the family of Lori Gilbert-Kaye and our best wishes for a quick recovery to the wounded. The international community must step up the struggle against antisemitism."
A GoFundMe page was created Saturday night to raise money to help pay for "any necessary medical operations for the victims, funeral services, synagogue reparations or anything else the synagogue would need assistance with."
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department said the following roads were closed until Sunday morning:
- Eastbound Espola Road at Summerfield Lane
- Westbound Espola Road at Avenida Florencia
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story identified the suspect as a graduate of Mount Miguel High School. This has been fixed and we regret the error.